The New Castle County Council has rejected a proposal to restrict the use of technology during legislative meetings.
A resolution written by board member Penrose Hollins would ban the use of communication devices such as cell phones, with the exception of a virtual connection to a meeting or access to the agenda and other meeting materials. Another exception for a bona fide emergency was included with the permission of the chairman.
Hollins said the goal is to eliminate any notion that council members were nonverbally talking to each other about what should be a public meeting.
“The main thing for the public is to discuss public business behind a shield through which eyes and ears cannot penetrate,” Hollins said.
Board member Dee Durham said technology should be an option. Since not all board members gathered in one room, she said the lack of access to the phone would limit her access to staff to help her during meetings.
“Given the technology, especially in the age of Zoom, it makes communication very difficult. I often send text messages to my assistant Chris during a meeting to ask him about something that has been touched on or that has been presented so he can do some research. for me, ”Durham said.
Hollins pointed to a recent meeting at which the public used the private chat feature on Zoom to try to communicate with board members as opposed to the allotted period of public comment.
“Some of us were concerned about the use of the chat room by Beck Creek residents, so we closed the chat. Let’s not be hypocritical, I come to the conclusion that text messages are much more hidden than chat. “
Board member George Smiley made an exception to the use of the word “hidden,” but said he was not going to support the measure; he saw a workaround that was partly mentioned in the resolution.
“I don’t consider what I’m doing” covered. ” I have my own [cellphone] me. There are situations when, “I’ll tell you right now when it’s over.” I can live with that. Because when I get a call or text that I need to take, I will go off the screen, out of voice, and I will let you know that I have an issue that I need to resolve. ”
The resolution failed 3-9 with one present. Among those who voted in favor of the measure were board member David Carter, board president Karen Hartley-Negle and board member Hollins. Among those who did not vote were board members Bill Bell, John Cartier, Lisa Dealer, Janet Kilpatyk, Timothy Sheldon, Smiley, G Street, David Thackett and Ken Woods. Board member Durham voted “present”.
Woods said his “no” vote stems from what he called “unnecessary” legislation.
“For the most part, I never voted or anything like that based on someone writing me a text during a meeting. I know how I usually vote when I come in until I hear testimony. I can tell you that every vote I have ever taken was made that way. “
A member of the G Street Council said he also voted against the measure because he would like police departments to take a closer look and publish more videos from the camera before they focus on internal rules.
Hollins said he knew he might not get the support he needed when he called for a rollback, but said the effort was worth it.
“I think it’s time for us to think about setting an example as a local government in Delaware.”